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Allegations Delay Vote by Episcopalians on Gay Bishop

The priest is accused of inappropriate touching and ties to a Web site with links to porn.

August 05, 2003|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — A historic vote by the Episcopal Church on whether to ordain an openly gay priest as a bishop for the first time was delayed here Monday after allegations surfaced that he had inappropriately touched another man.

Opponents of the ordination also charged that the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson was connected with a Web site for gay and bisexual youth that until Monday had a link to a site with pornography.

The church has opened an investigation.

The allegations about Robinson surprised 1,000 delegates attending the church's national General Convention, where only a day earlier Robinson had won a major victory, securing the backing of priests and lay deputies for his election as the next bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

The debate over Robinson had threatened to split one of the nation's oldest churches. Liberals called his ordination a natural progression for the Anglican Communion, noting it only started ordaining women into the priesthood in 1976. Conservatives said the ordination would defy biblical injunctions against homosexuality and perhaps cause a rift in the Anglican Communion, which claims 77 million members worldwide.

Nonetheless, Robinson won the endorsement by the church's House of Deputies by a 2-to-1 ratio, setting the stage for what many thought would be the concurrence by the nation's Episcopal bishops Monday.

Then late Sunday, a man identified as David Lewis of Manchester, Vt., sent an e-mail to his local bishop, the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, charging that Robinson "does not maintain appropriate boundaries with men."

Robinson "put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation," Lewis wrote of his contact with the priest several years ago at one of the church's regional convocations.

There was no immediate response from Robinson.

Hours after a hastily called closed-door meeting with Robinson and the New Hampshire delegation, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, primate of the Episcopal Church, ordered a delay in the vote until the investigation was concluded. The inquiry will be headed by Bishop Gordon P. Scruton of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

"Questions have been raised and brought to my attention regarding the bishop-elect of the Diocese of New Hampshire," Griswold said in a statement. He added that Robinson and his delegation had asked for a delay.

There was no indication of how long the inquiry would take. The church's General Convention, held every three years, ends Friday. "He's taking this very, very seriously, obviously," church spokesman Jim Solheim said of Griswold.

The official Episcopal news service said that under the church's disciplinary canons, the credibility of an alleged victim, whether male or female, "is assumed as soon as an allegation is made."

Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced man with two adult children, has lived with his partner, Mark Andrew, for 13 years.

Robinson was elected bishop earlier this summer by the priests and lay leaders of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Under Episcopal Church rules, the election of bishops by local dioceses must be approved by a majority of the nation's dioceses.

Solheim, the church spokesman, said that several bishops knew Robinson's accuser, Lewis. But Solheim said he could offer no other information.

However, a source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in the early 1980s, Lewis lived in Los Angeles, where he hoped to become an Episcopal priest but was turned down by the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The Very Rev. Mary June Nestler, dean of the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont, confirmed Monday that Lewis had been a student there at that time. At one time, Lewis also headed the Manchester School Fund, a program to raise money privately for the community's public schools. He has also been chairman of another nonprofit that deals with children with mental illness.

The former treasurer of the fund, William Drunsic, said Monday that Lewis was also editor of the Vermont News Guide, a weekly community newspaper in Manchester Center.

"In all my associations with David ... he did an outstanding job. I have no reason to doubt his integrity," Drunsic said. "I'm quite shocked, quite surprised and quite saddened by this turn of events. It is sad, and obviously, some peoples' reputations and careers are at stake."

Robinson's opponents also complained about the Web site of Outright Concord, a group he helped found for gay and bisexual youth. The group's Web site, which mainly contains information about social activities and social services, until Monday contained a link to a pornographic Web site.

But a Robinson backer, the Rev. Susan Russell, said that the link to the porn site was created about six months ago and that Robinson was no longer directly associated with Outright Concord's Web site. She also said that it would take numerous clicks to eventually reach the porn at an unrelated site.

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